The best second-hand bookshops around the UK
Discover where to find the best copies of your favourite childhood books, elusive first editions or well-worn classics with our guide to the best antiquarian and second-hand treasure troves
As the nights draw in, little seems more appealing than a pot of tea, a cosy eiderdown and curling up with a good book in a favourite armchair. And what better than the familiar, nostalgic smell and worn covers of a second hand volume? As CS Lewis said, ‘After reading a new book, never allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.’
Here’s where to find the best vintage and antiquarian books and some of the nation's most atmospheric bookshops. You never know – you might be able to pick up your a first edition of one of your favourite books from one of these antiquarian booksellers.
The best antique bookshops in North England
Potterton Books, Thirsk
Where? The Old Rectory, Sessay, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, YO7 3LZ
The location of this bookshop alone is enough to make you want to pay a visit. Set in the grounds of a stunning 18th-century house known as The Old Rectory in Thirsk, Potterton Books is regarded as a specialist in architecture, interior design and decoration, period styles, furniture, ceramics, glass and sculpture. If getting to Yorkshire is a little far, you can either visit their Chelsea showroom on Lower Sloane Street or browse their website for the full selection of new titles and unusual out-of-print books.
Barter Books, Alnwick
Where? Alnwick Station, Wagon Way Rd, Alnwick, NE66 2NP
One of the largest second-hand bookshops in Britain, Barter Books can be found in the confines of the old Victorian railway station in Alnwick. The setting is lovely, with the building maintaining many of its original features, such as the huge arched ceilings and open fireplaces. Row upon row of books are interspersed with plush velvet seating and old tapestry rugs, and the aisles are painted with written quotes from their pages. Antiquarian books have a room lined with glass cases to themselves. Plus, local artist Sally Latimer has just created a new poster for the shop based on vintage railway advertising, which you can buy for £12.
Scrivener's Books, Derbyshire
Where? 42 High Street, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 6HB
Set over five crammed-to-the-rafters floors, this gem of a bookstore specialises in antiquarian and first-edition books and has a tiny Victorian museum in the cellar to add to the feeling of nostalgia. You can help yourself to a coffee or a tea while you browse and even a slice of cake. There is a simple honesty box tea-takers to donate to as they wish. The children's section is expansive and you can pick up a book for as little as £2.
Cheshire Books, Cheshire
Where? Lady Heyes Craft Centre, Frodsham, Cheshire, WA6 6SU
Set in the beautiful Cheshire countryside, Cheshire Books has the largest collection of antiquarian, second-hand and collector books in the north west. Make a day of the trip with a coffee or homemade meal in the on-site Wishing Well restaurant. They also offer bookbinding, shelf-filling expertise and individual valuations.
The best antique bookshops in East of England
The Haunted Bookshop, Cambridge
Where? 9 St Edward's Passage, Cambridge, CB2 3PJ
Situated down a narrow passage in the centre of Cambridge, the quaint exterior of this shop, could be straight out of the set of any number of period dramas. Its name is inspired by supposed sightings of a ghostly woman on the premises. She is known as ‘The White Lady’ and is believed to smell faintly of violets. The shop specialises in children’s and illustrated books and stocks a good mixture inside. Books range from a 1964 edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis for £95 to a copy of Bleak House dating from 1853 for £450.
The best antique bookshops in Wales
Hay-on-Wye Booksellers, Hereford
Where? 13-14 High Town, Hay-on-Wye, Hereford, HR3 5AE
Hay-on-Wye Booksellers house a mixture of second-hand, antiquarian and brand new books in a mid 15th-century black-and-white timber property in the heart of the ‘town of books’. This charming little shop is constantly updating its stock to include used classics and first editions, and has now branched out as an online bookseller as well. Of course, it comes to life most during the Hay literary festival.
The best antique bookshops in Scotland
McNaughtan’s Bookshop, Edinburgh
Where? 3a-4a Haddington Place, Edinburgh, EH7 4AE
Established in 1957, McNaughtan’s is a second-hand and antiquarian bookshop with a reputation for a diverse range of interesting stock covering literature, art and architecture, gardens, transport, history and travel. You can pick up a second-hand book for as little as £2.
The Bookshop, Wigtown
Where? 17 N Main Street, Wigtown, DG8 9HL
Wigtown is Scotland's National Booktown, a haven of second-hand bookshops. The Bookshop is the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland with around 100,000 titles in stock, making it a must-visit for any bibliophile. The shop's proprietor Shaun Bythell launched the town to the global stage in 2017 when he released The Diary of a Bookseller, a collection of his diary entries from his time as a second-hand bookseller. Since then, he's published a tranche of further humorous diaries and observations, all of which are worth a read.
Best antique bookshops in London
Maggs Bros Limited, Bloomsbury
Where? 48 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DR
Established in 1853, Maggs Bros Limited remains one of the largest antiquarian bookshops in the country and is based in a beautiful townhouse in the heart of London's Mayfair. It has a reputation for the skill of the 20 or so staff members who show a remarkable breadth of in-house expertise. You certainly won't have any trouble finding what you want. Expect a variety of antique books ranging over a very large variety of prices.
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